10 Places to Experience the Old West in Metro Phoenix
MacDonald’s Ranch has a family-friendly frontier town.
Yes, Phoenix is the sixth largest city in the country. But that doesn’t mean it's lost touch with its Wild West heritage, horse ranches, ghost towns, and saloons.
We’ve traveled to every corner of the Valley and found iconic places to experience the Old West across town – from the Vulture Mine in Wickenburg to the Queen Creek Horseshoe Park to the Heard Museum in Central Phoenix.
Here are 10 spots carrying over the spirit of the Arizona territory. Just prepare to get a little dusty.
The Buffalo Chip Saloon offers weekly bull riding, dancing, and live music in Cave Creek.
Buffalo Chip Saloon
Located in Cave Creek (an Old West destination in and of itself), Buffalo Chip Saloon is where the Old West meets the honky-tonk, according to owner Larry Wendt. Wendt was always into chuck-wagon cook-offs and Western culture, but once he retired from law enforcement, he fully immersed himself in the Old West.
Buffalo Chip is known for its events, including live music (usually from the Pick o' the Litter band) and dancing, food cooked in Dutch ovens, and weekly bull riding. Wendt guarantees authenticity to patrons at Buffalo Chip, 6811 East Cave Creek Road. There are horse amenities in case you travel by steed, a buffet of briskets, cowboy beans, and honey butter biscuits, and “a lot of boots and hats.” Call 480-488-9118 or see www.buffalochipsaloon.com.
"Over the Edge: Fred Harvey at the Grand Canyon and in the Great Southwest" exhibit at the Heard Museum.
Courtesy of the Heard Museum
A staple in central Phoenix since 1929, the Heard Museum focuses on American Indian art and history with living exhibits on American Indian heritage. Located at 2301 North Central Avenue, the institute is also a well-known host of annual events like the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, the El Mercado de Las Artes, and the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest.
Starting April 9, 2016, the Heard Museum will feature a highly anticipated Old West exhibit – "Over the Edge: Fred Harvey at the Grand Canyon and in the Great Southwest."
Diana Pardue, curator of collections at the Heard Museum, says the story they tell couples the Santa Fe Railway with “Fred Harvey’s promotion of travel on the railway using Native American imagery, both of people and of objects,” she says, “And in addition to that we look at a lot of the Native American individuals who worked with the Fred Harvey Company.” Call 602-252-8840 or visit www.heard.org.
Experience rodeos and 4-H events at the Horseshoe Park & Equestrian Centre.
Courtesy of Queen Creek Horseshoe Park & Equestrian Centre
Horseshoe Park & Equestrian Centre
Set in the Town of Queen Creek at the site of the former Desert Wells Stage Stop of the 1800s and early 1900s, Queen Creek Horseshoe Park & Equestrian Centre has embraced the area’s equestrian heritage since opening in 2008.
Scoot your boots over to the park at 20464 East Riggs Road, as the center hosts (often-free) events such as the Roots N’ Boots Rodeo and Extreme Mustang Makeover, and organizations including the Arizona Cutting Horse Association and Cowboy Mounted Shooting.
According to center representative Constance Halonen-Wilson, “Patrons can experience the Old West lifestyle at the 4-H County Finals or the Chandler Vaqueros Saddle Club.” Which is to say, this is “agritainment” at its best. For details, call 480-358-3710 or see www.queencreek.org/departments/horseshoe-park-equestrian-centre.
The scenic Lost Dutchman State Park is in Apache Junction, along the Apache Trail.
Courtesy of Lost Dutchman State Park
Lost Dutchman State Park
If you’re not from the East Valley, you’ll recognize the familiar backdrop of Lost Dutchman State Park if you’ve ever headed east – and we mean east – on U.S. Route 60. Found along the famed Apache Trail at 6109 North Apache Trail, the park doesn’t have Old West structures or artifacts, but what it does have is this: authentic scenery of the authentic West (heck, further back than that).
What it also has is the "Old West lure of the fabled Lost Dutchman Mine for visitors to experience," says park manager Tim Kristof in an email. "Of course, some of it is based upon the visitor's vivid imagination."
Try to find the famous mine yourself, but watch your footing. “Scattered at the foot of the Superstition Mountainous area are ‘holes’ (known as prospects) dug into the earth by desperate miners called ‘prospectors’ searching for that oh-so-rare yellow metal we know as gold,” says Kristof. “Gold fever was rampant in the Old West and somewhat for a few souls today.” Call 480-982-4485 or visit www.azstateparks.com/parks/lodu.
MacDonald’s Ranch features close to 100 homegrown horses for trail rides and more.
Spanning 1,280 acres, the entrance to MacDonald’s Ranch, which features a horse painted as the Arizona flag, can’t be missed along the Desert Foothills Scenic Drive in north Scottsdale.
“This is still the Old West,” says owner and founder’s son, Robert “Robbie” Richardson. “This is one of the last little places in Scottsdale to a get Western experience.”
Originating as Old MacDonald Farm in the 1950s, the ranch, located 26540 North Scottsdale Road, offers horseback rides, cookouts, and a frontier town. The ranch only charges admission in October for its annual pumpkin patch (horses and wagons are still used to serve about 30,000 attendees).
MacDonald’s Ranch has close to 100 homegrown horses. “I can tell you all their names, but I can’t give you a number,” says Richardson. But, “I know when one’s missing.” Call 480-585-0239 or see www.macdonaldsranch.com.
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